Tag Archives: meditation

Salivary Cortisol in Yoga and Depression

Since the link between meditative and mindful practices like yoga and the rosary clearly exist, albeit weakly, I decided to take a look at the mitigating effects yoga has on stress.  One study “A Yoga Intervention for young Adults with Elevated Symptoms of Depression” by Woolery et al. (2004) was particularly helpful because the young adults self-reported their symptoms before and after the intervention and the researchers took salivary cortisol samples throughout the study to look at stress reduction.  I didn’t see how the article was particularly clear on the results of the salivary cortisol but I hope to use salivary cortisol in my methods as well to measure stress and the possible mediating affect the rosary service may have on stress.

The History of the Rosary and some Physiological Benefits

I found the historical information in the article “Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study” as well as the information on rhythmic breathing to be helpful.  Bernardi et al. (2001) described how recitation of the rosary (a repetitive Roman Catholic prayer) and yoga mantras slow respiration to a specific rhythm which can benefit heart rate and blood pressure.  While, the effects of meditative practices such as yoga have been more widely studied repetitive and meditative prayer have not been studied as much.  This paper was able to investigate a slight historical link between the two practices as well as a possible hypothesis for why both practices may be of physiological benefit to practitioners.

Bernardi, L., Sleight, P., Bandinelli, G., Cencetti, S., Fattorini, L., Wdowczyc-Szulc, J., & Lagi, A. (2001). Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study. Bmj323(7327), 1446-1449.

Stick to the Familiar

I recently read “Self-regulatory deficits associated with unpracticed mindfulness strategies for coping with acute pain” by D. R. Evans.  While mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease pain perception, it turns out that it can actually be harmful in the short run.  Using this strategy of self regulation is unfamiliar and strange to most people, and can deplete the will-power to resist temptation.  For this reason, I think a more familiar pain-coping strategy might be better suited to addicts who are already struggling with self-regulation.  This is why I am interested to find out if the addict’s addiction can become a mantra that will help addicts tolerate pain.

The Psychosythesis Approach to Culture Shock

Perhaps not as well known as his contemporaries Freud and Jung, Roberto Assagioli nevertheless left behind an impressive legacy in the form of psychosynthesis.  Lombard uses this approach in her 2014 article “Coping with Anxiety and Rebuilding Identity: A Psychosynthesis Approach to Culture Shock.”  There are a couple things I like about this article.  Firstly, Lombard begins with a pretty good literature review on culture shock.   Lombard sees student sojourners  as a rapidly increasing population that is willfully engaging in different cultural contexts.   Secondly, the self-identification exercise is a unique form of therapy that complements the subpersonality model by allowing distance from “ties that bind” in order to get at the true “I,” or what Lombard refers to as “the observer and director or all their subpersonalities” (10).

In my opinion, while I can see how these two interventions may affect the ABC’s of culture shock,  a psychosynthesis approach provides insight into what is going on biologically.   I believe a biocultural model of culture shock would provide a better avenue to understanding the phenomenon.  Identity is not merely psychologically based.

Focus, Focus, Focus


The main thing that I found useful from this article was the description of several types of meditation.  There was breath based meditation, concentrative meditation, and mindfulness meditation.  I was particularly interested in the concentrative meditation, which involves developing a focus using a mental device, such as a mantra, body sensation, breath, or specific image.  Specifically, I was intrigued by Transcendental Meditation, which utilizes a mantra, which is a word or saying that is repeated in a rhythmic cycle.  I hypothesize that there could be a similarity between this form of meditation and addiction seeking behavior.  Addicts focus on one thing, which is their addiction.  Is it possible that this focus is similar to the focus on a mantra in meditation?

Additionally, there were some data collection techniques that might be useful.  Infiniti Thought Technology was a biofeedback system that could be used to measure blood volume, respiration rate, different brain waves, and muscle relaxation/tension.  I also liked how phenomenological data was analyzed using summaries that the participants had written.  I can do something similar to get an understanding of the addicts background and the reasoning behind the craving.

Loving the Pain

The article “What Imaging Teaches Us About Pain” by Elizabeth Church was very informative to me.

First, it describes pain.  As much as we may hate pain and avoid it at all costs, pain is actually a good thing.  It is “an alarm system that protects individual organisms from potential or actual physical threats.”  It is a complex sensory and emotional experience that warns us if there is potential or actual damage to us, or if something is just wrong.  One type of pain described is nociception, which is the activation of nerve endings that respond differently to tissue-damaging stimuli.  The activation of these nerve endings may or may not be perceived as pain.  Pain is actually a very subjective experience.  Our experience of pain is completely dependent on our interpretation of it.  It is colored by our belief about the pain, our expectations, and our mood.  Our perceptions may or may not match with the nociceptive input.  Basically, our pain is fueled by our mind.

However, biology comes into play as well with genetic factors that influence the experience of pain.  There are even specific neurotransmitters in the forebrain that are involved with the reduction of the intensity of the pain experience.  The pain matrix is a large network that becomes activated during the nociceptive processing.  What is interesting is that individuals have different portions of the central nervous system that play different roles in pain processing in this pain network.  To get into some hard biology, there are common regions of the brain that are involved in pain processing.  These include the sensory-discriminatory areas of the central nervous system, which are the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex, including the primary somatosensory (sense of touch), secondary somatosensory, thalamus (relays sensory information), and posterior portions of the insula (linked to regulation of emotion and homeostasis, perception, motor control, self awareness, and cognitive functioning).  Also, areas of the brain associated with cognition and affect (anterior portions of the insula, the anterior cingulated cortex, and the prefrontal cortex) help regulate pain.

As far as I can see, a lot of pain processing is located in the brain.  This means that neural imaging can be used to show pain intensity in an objective manner versus the normal participant evaluations that are subjective to their experiences.  While an fMRI would be nice to use to an imaging tool, it seems a little bulky for my experimental design, so I think DOT diffuse optical tomography might work better.  The participant wears a helmet with lights sources and detectors that absorb and respond to light, and by some scientific magic  this detects changes in cerebral blood flow, which show areas of brain activity.  I think that this method will be a nice addition to the subjective VAS scale I intend to include in my experimental design.

Another interesting point of this article was that the best alternative (non-medication) treatment of pain is meditation.  Meditation overall can improve attention, relieve anxiety and depression, reduce anger and cortisol levels, and strengthen immune responses and gray matter density.  While the benefits of meditation are numerous, I could never get past the boring part myself.  Also, meditators had a lower pain sensitivity than control subjects.  When faced with heat, it took higher temperatures before they felt any pain!  The strength of this pain regulation depends on the amount of meditation experience, and unfortunately 2000 plus hours are needed for significant control of pain.  Short term meditation does have some effect, though.  I would love to contrast a meditator with a drug addict, because in a way addicts adhere to their own inner mantra.

Craving a Fix

I recently read the article “Cognitive and affective mechanisms linking trait mindfulness to craving among individuals in addiction recovery”  by E.L. Garland that I think I can use in my research proposal.

The article is about how mindfulness is related to craving.  Craving is the subjective experience of physical data related to the withdrawal from the cue (alcohol, drugs, etc.).  More than just the physiological experiences, craving is the inner interpretation of those experiences.  It is the constant thought of the craved substance, the anticipation of how good it will feel when the addict finally gets the substance, and all of the thoughts and behaviors that drive individuals to acquire the substance no matter what the cost.  I want to utilize this behavior in addicts to see if they are so focused in their cravings that they ignore reality, in the form of ignoring pain.  I wonder if their need for a fix is so great that other perceptions do not even register in their minds.  I feel like this repetitive, central goal might be somewhat similar to meditation that involves repeating a mantra, so I will have to read more on meditation.  Meditation could be a good contrast against addictions, since it is viewed in a positive light rather than a negative one and has already been shown to increase pain tolerance.

In this study, craving was measured using the Penn Alcohol Craving Scale.  It measures the duration, frequency, and intensity of craving for alcohol on a 7 point scale  with questions such as “How often have you thought about drinking or how good a drink would make you feel.”  This is perfectly designed to test the craving levels of the alcoholics in my proposal.  Since the scale was modified in the article to also measure cravings for drugs, I think it would be reasonable for me to modify the scale to measure the cravings of pathological gamblers.  This way, I would be able to compare the levels of craving of the addicted participants to their performance in the pain test.